Zimbabwe: The Mean Season for Gays

Harare — For Zimbabwe’s gay community, voting season is a time of dread. As political temperatures rise ahead of expected elections next year, gays and lesbians are being targeted by police in an apparent strategy to win over voters.

On 11 August 2012, police raided a book launch at the headquarters of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), an NGO based in Harare that promotes the rights of sexual minorities. The police arrested 44 people, and although none were formally charged, the incident followed a familiar pattern of harassment, beatings and threats against people who openly identify as gay.

The group was released the next day, but not before being “profiled” – a term used by police to describe information gathering. Detainees’ names, addresses, places of work and even details about friends and family were recorded.

With this information, police have been pursuing these individuals as well as people close to them. “We are in for a protracted campaign of harassment; it is going to be a very rough time,” Chesterfield Samba, director of GALZ, told IRIN. “People are being tracked down in clubs and bars, at their jobs and homes, because they are suspected of being gay.”

Politically motivated

Same-sex relationships are considered a breach of the traditional family structure, in which marriage and procreation help perpetuate a system of care for elders. In Zimbabwe, regard for tradition is used to stir up populist sentiment during elections.

“Usually when anything political is happening, the vilification of the [gay] community begins,” Samba said. “It is a fearful time, and it becomes difficult to go about daily life as normal.”

Two key political events appear to have triggered the latest round of harassment: the expected presidential election – in which President Robert Mugabe will likely square off against his rival in the unity government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai – and the referendum on a draft constitution, which, if adopted, could limit the powers of the presidency.

Tsvangirai has called for presidential and parliamentary elections to take place in March 2013. The current session of parliament ends in June 2013, and, according to the 2009 unity government agreement, the polls must be held by October 2013.

Source – All Africa.com